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Foundation of the Peasant Arts Museum

"The Collection of Peasant Arts …throws light on the lives and crafts of simple men and women, their skill and ingenuity working in wood, in iron, at weaving."
'A Handbook to the Peasant Arts Section of Haslemere Educational Museum' by Joseph King

For many years Joseph King and Godfrey Blount, the main forces behind the Peasant Arts Movement in Haslemere, collected examples of art and craft created by European peasants. This provided inspiration to their workers in the various handicraft industries established at Haslemere, as items were originally displayed on shelves in the workshops.

The Peasant Handicraft Museum at No.1, The Pavement

The Peasant Arts Society had formed its own small museum since 1905 but, with the addition of Gerald Davies's collection of 600 peasant artefacts, they opened the Peasant Handicraft Museum on the 23 April 1910 above their shop at No.1, The Pavement in Haslemere High Street. Gerald attached two conditions to the transfer of his collection to the new museum; one, that it should be kept together and, two, that it should never be transferred to any museum in London or other large cities, lest it be damaged by smoke.

Joseph King was the first curator of the museum with Godfrey Blount as the treasurer and Dr Greville MacDonald as its chairman. Gerald Davies officially opened the museum and gave a speech in which he called peasant art "one of the most hopeful things in humanity" and asked his audience to "revolt against this dreary life, so highly machined that all the vitality went out of it". Opening daily, the admission was 6 pence but free on Wednesdays.

The Collection moves to Foundry Meadow

In 1912, The Peasant Handicraft Museum moved from the High Street to Foundry Meadow (now numbers 38 to 40 in Kings Road). Between 1910 and 1925, the museum attracted over 2000 visitors from around the world including America, Austria and South Africa. However, by 1926 the collection had grown to nearly 700 objects and it was felt that a lack of display space meant the museum could no longer fulfil its original intention of providing a source of inspiration. In addition, the cost of running the museum increasingly fell to the trustees. An attempt to raise subscriptions through a Museum Upkeep Fund was wrecked by the outbreak of war in 1914.

The Collection moves to Haslemere Museum

In 1926, the Peasant Handicraft Museum moved its entire collection free of charge to the new premises of Haslemere Museum at the Lodge on the High Street (where it currently resides). A fund of £1000 went with the collection (Joseph King personally donated £500) to make alterations to the building so the objects could be properly displayed. The Peasant Arts Guild made it a condition of the transfer that one of their members served on the general committee of the Haslemere Museum and that the Guild had use of the lecture room. Joseph King was appointed Honorary Curator.

The collection was originally displayed in two rooms and artefacts were exhibited according to the different aspects of peasant life, e.g. house and home, dress, religion or music. The public were invited to handle the objects and Joseph King often gave talks to children on the different items. During the 1920s and 30s practical demonstrations were given of spinning and weaving using actual objects in the collection.

One of the Peasant Arts exhibition rooms

Honorary Peasant Arts Curator Joseph King

The History of Haslemere Museum

In the late Victorian era Sir Jonathan Hutchinson collected a number of botanical, geological and social history curiosities from around the world and in 1888 founded a small private museum in his garden for the local people of Haslemere. He established a revolutionary new role for museums by emphasising the importance of education for everyone. He encouraged the open display of artefacts and believed that people could learn as much through their hands as their eyes. This was in great contrast to other museums, which at the time had their cases sealed and display "Do Not Touch" signs in the galleries. Later he created a museum exam for the local children and hoped this would encourage observation, reading and discussions.

In 1926 the Museum moved to its current location on the High Street and received The European Peasant Arts Collection of the Peasant Arts Museum, which had also been located in the town. The Museum became a place of local scientific research with residential field courses. It grow into an important centre for adult education and offered a school loan service from 1951, enabling schools to borrow duplicates from the collection. This practice continues today.

Today Haslemere Museum is one of the largest Museums in central southern England with over 240,000 Natural History specimens, along with over 140,000 Human History artefacts from around the world. There are three large permanent galleries for Geology, Natural History and Human History artefacts, also with two temporary exhibition rooms, a lecture hall, a library and a dedicated education room for people of all ages.

Haslemere Museum

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